Road Trip Cookies

No matter where you drive you always end up taking pictures of your rear-view mirror.
No matter where you drive you always end up taking pictures of your rear-view mirror.

I have recently become addicted to road trips. Not in a way that has me giving handjobs to strangers for petrol money, but… you know, lets just say I like getting in my car, playing something inappropriately loud, rolling down the windows and heading for somewhere that’s going to remind me just how much I prefer where I actually live.

Of course, road trips are totally dependent on a number of factors: the car, the music, the company (preferably someone who likes being shut up in a car with you for 5-or-so hours) and of course – the food. Now, I must say up front that these cookies I ended up making were in no way intended as ‘road trip’ cookies, because who the fuck bakes cookies for a road trip that’s not 60-plus, wears granny-glasses and is actually my granny? And even then she’d probably only do it if someone was threatening to take away CSI: Miami (she loves David Caruso – she’s old, give her a break). I happened to have made them just before heading out for a long-weekend on a friend’s game-farm down in Natal is all. Promise.
The fact that they were delicious and appreciated by everyone was just an added bonus.

These biscuits are ridiculously simple and awesome with just about everything. Except anchovies.

I'm running out of places to put things after they've come out the oven.
I'm running out of places to put things after they've come out the oven.

Ingredients:

120 g Unsalted butter (make sure it’s soft, because otherwise you’re going to give yourself a hernia)
150 g Caster sugar
2 Vanilla pods (sliced in half with all the seeds scraped out and set aside)
2 Eggs
250 g All purpose flour
a pinch of salt

What to do:
In a mixing bowl, whip together the butter, sugar and vanilla seeds (throw the empty pods away). Get this mixture to a point where it’s fluffy and smooth. Then add the eggs and beat away some more, again to a point where the mixture is silky.

Add a pinch of salt as you’re beating, and then, little by little, add the flour. You don’t necessarily need to sift it, but obviously you’re going to have an easier job making it lump-free if you do. As you get towards the end of your flour it’ll start looking less and less like a thick liquid and more like dough.
Once it’s all worked in and looking good, wrap the dough in clingfilm and rest it in the fridge for an hour.

Once that’s done, roll it out (probably easier to do it a bit at a time) to a thickness of about 5mm. You’ll have to keep a bit of flour handy to stop it from sticking to your rolling pin (or wine bottle, in my case) and then use just about anything (I used a Jack Daniels glass) to cut out round shapes. Cover a baking tray with a sheet of baking paper, put them in an oven that’s been pre-heated to about 180/200º and cook them until golden brown.

Easy freakin’ peasy. Also, if you want to be all fancy pants, you can press some almonds, strawberry halves or glazed cherries into them just before baking.

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The Starch-free Dinner

This is what dinner always looks like when you're single. I can't figure out if it's awesome or pathetic.
This is what dinner always looks like when you're single. I can't figure out if it's awesome or pathetic.

So, if I were to think about it clearly and comprehensively, I’m pretty sure I prefer doing just about anything else rather than talk to someone about ‘their diet’ – and that includes: being eaten alive by ants, having butt-sex with Mr T and being forced to listen to the complete works of Mika. For some reason, people go a particular type of ‘hysterical earnest’ that borders on the truly psychotic when parading the particular types of dietary torture they happen to be forcing on themselves so that they can feel superior in front of their friends.

Just so that I’m clear, I have nothing against actual diets – just people who feel the need to talk about them. All the time. Even during the cricket. Also, this particular wave of exotic food-idiocy that seems to have started to masquerade itself as ‘fool-proof’ dieting has actually started to look like a list of plot-premises for episodes of some particularly insane Japanese reality TV show rather than sensible eating programs. I have no interest in hearing how the only way to lose weight is to exist on nothing but smoothies made with fresh-mown grass and blended bacon-fat, or how you can reduce your fat-intake by only eating under fluorescent lights positioned at right-angles to the rising sun, or only eating foods that start with the letter G. I’m not interested. Seriously.

Having said that, I, like everyone else, do occasionally think twice about how I’m eating (mostly, do I really need to finish the entire bag of Ghost Pops? The answer to that question, by the way, is always yes), and over the years, whenever I want to feel better about what I’m having for dinner, I just leave out the starch. It’s simple, and generally reduces that feeling of accidentally having just eaten a brick. So, if you’re interested in some starch-free dinners, well…I’ve only got one. So…um, here it is.

Pork Medallions in White Wine, with Green Beans and Mushrooms

Pork is one of those things that really appreciates any work that’s put into it. You know, chicken will mostly always just be chicken with other flavours riding on the surface, and beef is best when left alone to play in the corner. Pork however, likes to be wined, dined, shown a movie and then go for a moonlit drive before you take it back to your place for that night of doing things that would make your granny blush. So I’ve done quite a lot of warm-up with this pork, but it’s up to you how far you want to take it.

The measurements here are to serve 2.

med-03232a
Ingredients

1 Pork fillet
6 or 7 strips of streaky bacon
2 tbsp of Honey
1 dried chilli (finely chopped)
1 tbsp of thick Indonesian soy sauce
1 tbsp tomato sauce
1 healthy splash of red wine vinegar
1 smallish bunch of fresh sage (finely chopped)
4 large brown mushrooms
1 glass of white wine (be generous)
1 healthy handful of green beans
salt
pepper

What to do:

Wrap the pork fillet around the sage, and then wrap the bacon around the pork fillet. At this point, please don’t freak out about the seemingly insanely indulgent combination of pork and bacon together – it’s not overkill, please believe me.  You can use some string or toothpicks to hold it all together if it all looks a bit sloppy.

In a bowl mix the honey, chilli, soy sauce tomato sauce and vinegar (season with salt and pepper to taste) and then empty it into a sealable Ziploc bag. Carefully put the pork in with the marinade, make sure it’s well covered, then seal it up and put it in the fridge. Now you can leave this in there for a couple of hours, but I like to leave it for at least a whole day. All 24 hours of it.

Once you’ve decided enough is enough, heat a ridged pan (hot, but not smoking) and add the fillet, emptying the marinade over it. Once you’ve given it about 4 or 5 minutes on each side and the marinade has started to bubble and thicken, add your first splash of white wine. Keep turning the pork and adding more white wine until the meat has cooked through (a cooking time of about 25 minutes or so).

Remove the meat and let it rest for about 5 minutes or so.

Into the liquid left in the pan (which should be a lovely thick wine/marinade combination), add the sliced mushrooms and let them cook in the juice for about 5 minutes or so with a dash of salt and pepper.

Cut the Pork into medallions (try and keep the bacon in place) and serve on green beans that have been boiled for ten minutes or so in salted water.

Make sure you have some white wine left over to drink, because you know…

The GQ Dinner

The Halloween Tie: If only GQ knew they were being represented this way...
The Halloween Tie: If only GQ knew they were being represented this way...

If I had a duck for every time I’ve wistfully daydreamed about being a restaurant reviewer, I’d be styling my hair into fanciful and impractical shapes with a never-ending supply of pâté. Throw in a mini-cheese for every time I’ve daydreamed of being a cricket commentator and I’m dead of a heart attack by 35.

However, as lovely as daydreams that finish with pâté and mini-cheese are, they’re not exactly a 12-step program towards being paid to be disparaging about other people’s wine lists. Which is why when my dear friend Rebecca (who is paid by GQ to be snooty about other people’s wine lists) needed a partner for a visit to the particularly fancy French Restaurant Le Canard, a drum-circle of unwashed hippies wouldn’t have been able to keep me away.

I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been to a restaurant that’s actually required me to dress up for the privilege of paying to eat their food, and so the mere thought of it actually made me nervous enough to contemplate going out and buying a new tie. Which, I then realized I’d promptly lose. So instead I settled for a tie I’d bought as the finishing touch for a Halloween costume.

Yep, I’m a classy guy, me.

Now of course with a ‘fancy restaurant’, the experience begins waaay before you settle in behind the crisp white tablecloth and offered some weird egg thingie on a piece of toast as an appetiser (which we were). Which is why – when the gate-buzzer was missing, alarm bells started to warm up for the late-night show, and when the parking guy drunkenly insisted on calling me ‘General’ because I drive a rather battered Jeep Cherokee, the alarm bells started to wonder if maybe their entrance was going to be pushed forward a couple of hours.

Le Canard has been around since 1987 (or as they say on the website ‘hatched in 1987’ – gerrit? It’s a duck pun. Dear lord…), and the problem is that from the moment you walk in, you can tell. The place feels like an interactive museum designed to recreate the experience of eating in a French restaurant circa 1987, but with a bit of ‘rogue pirate’ thrown in for good measure. Well, the pirate bit was due to the fact that our waiter had an eye-patch, which was surreally awesome – except for the fact that when he poured the water (which he insisted on doing with determined regularity) he usually ended up comprehensively missing the glass and pouring it a lot closer to my lap than I’m completely comfortable with. You see, Le Canard is just that little too much marble, fake gold, and granny’s silverware for anyone to really feel at home: and the overall effect is that you’ve accidentally wandered into a discarded restaurant set from an early 90s-era Bold and the Beautiful. You honestly expect Brooke and Ridge to conceive a baby at the table next to you in-between mains and dessert (much to the surprise of the nice BEE couple trying to eat their lamb shanks).

But restaurants are not made or broken by their décor (my favourite Chinese seafood place serves it curried crab on garden furniture – and not because they’re being cute), we were obviously here to eat. And boy did we rack up a Greatest Hits of French Cuisine. Sweetbreads (Rebecca is more adventurous than me) and Lobster Bisque for starters, and Veal for mains while I seem to remember that there was also some fish hovering around the table as well.  As it turns out, eating sweetbread (a throat gland of some kind) is sort of like having a big dollop of pure marrow meat in incredibly rich gravy. Salty. And just that little bit softer than you’d like – but actually quite nice. However, if I was to use my lobster bisque as my template for what to expect from lobster bisque, it was a very nice mushroom soup with some unnecessary bits of lobster in it. Oh well, there is no starter so average that a good slice of baby cow won’t solve. But this is where things started to get really strange. My veal was served with gnocchi, and not only that, it was gnocchi cut into very precise little star shapes, which made it feel like I was eating an expensive plate of “fun-shaped noodles for kids”, one step away from the waiter feeding it to me making choo-choo train noises. And so after I’d had the last of the sparkling water poured onto my elbow by the kindly pirate-guy, I prepared to tuck into a crème brule as my final stop on French Greatest Hits tour. There was one thing that did make me pause though, because I was slightly alarmed by the word ‘surprise’ that came after the Crème and Brule bit on the menu. You see, when it comes to food, ‘Surprise’ is one of those words that always sounds like it’s going to be a wonderful and exciting thing: maybe with streamers and someone singing a fun song, but inevitably ends up being more along the line of a whole cabbage stuffed into a strawberry tart because the pastry chef has access to far too much mediocre cocaine and thought it would be a good joke. Subsequently I’ve learned to treat menus that are enthusiastic with the word ‘surprise’ the same way I treat drunk girls still hanging around the dance floor at 3am: with caution and maybe some insect repellent. Except this time, maybe I was caught up in the moment, swept away by the bizarre time-warp that was eating in amongst all the dented serving trays and chintz chair-covers, because I threw caution to wind and told the kitchen to give me its best shot. Well, the ‘surprise’ ended up being a swimming pool of Kahlua lurking at the bottom of the cup like it was waiting to catch a train or something. Definitely surprising. Not very nice though.

At the end of the day, I have this useful (ish) tip to offer: ‘fancy’ usually means ‘old’, and an expensive menu isn’t necessarily a good one.

I know this is far from an earth-shattering revelation, but I for one am comforted to know that all these years I haven’t really been missing all that much. So… who’s for some chips and dip?

Cooking What You Catch

His name was Das Bass. Yeah - we're nerds.
His name was Das Bass. Yeah - we're nerds.

Fishing is definitely one of those ‘men things’. Like sport on TV, owning a drill and having an obsessive relationship with ones own facial hair – it’s one of those pastimes that, for us, can’t be helped.  And I guess, by way of explanation, you can glibly say, “it’s a primal thing”, but at the end of the day it’s probably a little more layered than that.

You see, what I wanted wasn’t necessarily about fishing as such, it was more about (and feel free to laugh) taking my place in that Circle of Life thing that Elton John endlessly drones on about. What I wanted was very simple: Catch, Cook and Eat. Start the day with nothing, and end it with a full stomach, made so by my own ingenuity.

You see if you look at it, fishing has a lot going for it over other forms of catching animals that you intend to eat: the contemplative silence, the scope for a zen-like meditative state, the inevitable bonding that takes place between men when there’s an “Us vs. Nature” situation, the excuse to stand around and drink a lot of beer, and the distinct lack of high-powered rifles – which make me uncomfortable. Mostly what’s always appealed to me is this crazy idea that there’s food out there in the world just swimming about, waiting for anyone adept enough at tricking it into biting down on a nice shiny hook. Now this applies quite neatly to the practice of sea-fishing, (or that pretentious trout-fishing thing that people do with self-made lures that always seem to be called a “Jiminy Cricket”, or a “Lazy Sue’s Retirement Package”) because saltwater fish is delicious. But for the most part, freshwater fish are a slightly different prospect. You’ve got to work a lot harder to change a freshwater fish from “swimming creature with fins” into “deliciousness on a plate”.  Most bass, bream or if you’re unlucky enough, barbel, have a flavour that can best be described as an unpleasant mix of algae, mud and fish that’s been hanging around the bad end of the pond too much. They almost seem to taste just like a dam looks. And its very ‘fishy’ – if that makes sense. But the prospect of cooking dinner out of something I’ve caught obsesses me no end, and so, when I was invited to a friend’s farm for a long weekend of fishing I leapt at the chance.

The only problem is that I suck at it. Like…completely.

Well, lets quantify that. It’s not like I throw the rod in the water instead of casting out the line, snag the hook on the back of my own head or fall in the water every five minutes. But, there’s just a knack I just don’t have, an affinity that’s missing, which means that fishing for me is endlessly throwing an organic rubber worm into some water for two hours, pulling it back and wondering what these ‘fish’ that everyone talks about might actually look like.

You see, fish are cruel bastards; they love nothing more than to show off just how many of them are around, none of which are going to be caught by you. They do this by literally doing backflips out the water, complicated dance routines and what looks like the second act of the Russian Underwater Ballet’s re-imagining of A Streetcar Named Desire – all about 3 feet beyond the range of where you’re casting. So you know they’re there, but damned if you can actually do anything about it.

So, standing on the edge of the dam, endlessly casting my stupid rubber worm into what looked like a fish mardis gras which had decided I wasn’t on the guestlist, I was starting to get a little despondent about this whole cooking what you catch thing, until Greg yelled that he’d gotten one. A big one.

Okay – so it wasn’t massive, but since the point of the whole exercise was to provide enough flesh to make cooking the thing worthwhile, it was definitely in our range. The problem is that once you’ve decided that this is going to be ‘the one’, you can’t just leave it flopping around on the bank – you’ve actually got to man up and, you know… kill it. This is where we sort of um’d and ah’d about the whole idea for a bit, shuffling our feet on the side of the river until I settled it all by smashing our lunch on the head with my cricket bat. Which is probably a first in a whole lot of ways.

Gutting a fish isn’t nearly as bad you’d think, especially in the case of a bass, which is mostly all head – but you do need a sharp knife. You basically hold the fish by the tail, make an incision just behind the rear fin before its belly, and cut past it all the way up to the head. At this point a couple of orange things will fall out and the rest will sort of just hang there waiting to be scraped out with your knife. Hose it down with a jet of water and you’re good to go. The hosing down bit is important, because most freshwater fish have a covering of bacterial slime that actually protects them from … stuff they need protecting from. Useful stuff that slime, but it’s disgusting, and you want to scrape, scrub and wash as much of it off as possible.

So, lunch ended up being bush-style Fish and Chips:

Because freshwater bass really isn’t the friendliest of flavours, substitute for a whole trout or salmon and you’ll be smiling.

Fish and chips next to the fire.
Fish and chips next to the fire.

Ingredients

Das Bass
5 or 6 potatoes (peeled)
A lot of thyme
3 or 4 carrots
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 small brown onions (or one big one)
2 cloves of garlic
Honey
2 tomatoes
1 cup of white wine
1 quarter of a cup of white wine vinegar
1 lemon cut into wedges
salt and pepper

What to do:

Boil the peeled potatoes in salted water for about half an hour to 45 minutes. They’re done when you can easily push a knife through without any resistance. Drain the water, and then slice the potatoes into centimeter-thick discs. Heat your oven to as hot as it can go, lay the potatoes flat onto a baking tray, splash with some olive oil, rub it into the potatoes just to make sure they’re covered, season with salt and pepper and then bung them in the oven until they’re crisp and golden.

In the meantime, slice up your carrots, peppers, garlic and onion as thinly as you reasonably can and soften in a pan with a generous handful of thyme leaves (get someone to remove them from the stalk for you, because it’s a pain in the ass), a bit of olive oil, two tablespoons of honey and a pinch of salt and pepper. Get it so that the vegetables are starting to caramelize in the honey and taking on a richer colour, but not completely wilted just yet.

Once the potatoes are done, remove the tray from the oven. Move the potatoes around to make a space in the middle. Spoon half the vegetable from your pan onto the potatoes and the space you’ve made for the fish, and then put your fish onto that space.

No matter how much a fish may taste like mud, if people are hungry enough - they'll eat it.

Stuff the fish with a couple of lemon wedges and a fair amount of whole thyme stalks and grind in some salt and pepper. Then cover the fish with the rest of the vegetables. Slice up the two tomatoes and arrange the slices over the fish and the vegetables. Pour in the cup of white wine, cover with a sheet of tinfoil and put it into the oven pre-heated to 220 °C.

Cook for about 25 minutes and then remove from the oven, open up the tinfoil pour in the white wine vinegar and put back in the oven, uncovered for about 10 minutes or so.

At that point the fish should be turning a golden brown, the vegetables will just be starting to glaze and darken and a lovely wine/vinegar/honey sauce should be bubbling at the bottom of the tray, Serve as is.

So – if I were to check my objectives against what actually happened, a) I didn’t manage to catch anything (that’s what useful and more-skilled friends are for apparently) b) the fish we actually did catch tasted like fish-flavoured dam water, but the potatoes were awesome.

The Totally Fake Cassoulet

So a lot of this got eaten before I could take the photograph. In my head this is a good thing.
So a lot of this got eaten before I could take the photograph. In my head this is a good thing.

So, a ‘Cassoulet’ is basically just a French name for a stew with beans in it.

Serious.

You see, the French get insanely protective of the recipes (of which there are thousands – and all hideously complicated), methods and ingredients that supposedly go into this, and anything other than any of those is usually spat on, dismissed as total crap and possibly not even considered worthy of feeding to the dog.

So – because I quite like the idea of Cassoulet (aka stew with beans in it), but have never had the patience to go through the twenty hoops, rings of fire and booby-traps involving sharp knives and flame-throwers required to actually make it, I’ve developed this recipe this which is a total fake, but as far as I’m concerned, utterly delicious.

Also, it might look fairly complex, but its really not. If you think about it as being a ‘stew of  three parts’ each of which can be done separately – it becomes a lot easier.

Ingredients

Part I

1 Free-range Chicken
1 largish sprig of fresh thyme
2 Bay Leaves
1 Tbsp of whole black peppercorns
A healthy pinch of salt
2 Carrots
2 Celery stalks (chopped up)
1 Brown Onion (roughly chopped)
1 Tspn of Hot English Mustard
4 Tbsp of Butter
3 Smashed cloves of garlic
3 capfuls of white wine vinegar

Part II

1 Handful of smoked bacon (or good quality streaky bacon) – chopped
1 Red Pepper (finely chopped)
1 Generous cup of white wine
1 500g tin of Broad Beans

Part III

1 Coil of Italian pork sausage
5 or 6 Spring onions (finely chopped)
1 handful of fresh sage (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
2 Tins of whole peeled tomatoes

Part IV

1 Large bowl of rough bread crumbs
1 Generous handful of grated parmesan

What to do:

In a large pot, combine the chicken (I’d recommend cutting it up into smaller pieces, separating the legs and wings from the main body) with the salt, pepper, thyme, bay, carrots, celery, onion, mustard and butter. Then cover with water, bring it to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Just a word about the butter and the mustard in what is otherwise a standard chicken-stock: although it’s virtual blasphemy to include them, with this recipe its super-important, mainly because of the incredible way in which these flavours will travel through this whole recipe – ultimately giving it an amazing silky quality.

Drain the liquid through a colander or sieve into a container and set aside, then remove the chicken from the pot. At this point all that should be left in the pot are the vegetables from the stock, from which you should remove the bay leaves and the stalks from the thyme.

Remove all the meat from the carcass of the chicken (you can be quite rough with it – you don’t really need neat whole pieces, the meat can in fact have an almost shredded quality) and put it in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and then add three caps full of white wine vinegar and set aside.

To the vegetables in your stockpot, add the bacon, the wine, beans and chopped red pepper. Cover with some of your freshly made stock and bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour.

Meanwhile, heat a pan until smoking hot and brown your coil of sausage. Once browned, remove from the pan and slice into inch-thick discs. Leave all the juices from the sausage in the pan because we’re going to use it almost immediately.

Finely chop the spring onions, garlic and sage and add them to the juice of the just-cooked sausage in the pan and fry gently. Then add the chicken and combine in the heat for about 3 or 4 minutes.

Add this to the simmering stock, beans and vegetables – then also add the tins of tomato and the sliced sausage. Continue to simmer (stirring every now and again) on a low heat for another one and a half hours.

Meanwhile mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.

Finally, remove the ‘stew’ from the heat and add to a thick casserole dish (or basically any ovenproof ceramic dish) and then cover with the breadcrumb/parmesan mix. Bake in the oven on 180 °C until the crumb crust is crisp and golden brown.

I served this with flatbread and large quantities of red wine (like….a lot) and a salad of rocket-leaves with a lemon dressing.

The Vanilla Question…continued

Okay so it seems that one really can’t just put up a picture of a baked cheescake and expect to get away with it. So here’s the recipe. Now please stop throwing sticks at my windows.

This is actually all that's left of the cheesecake...seriously.
This is actually all that's left of the cheesecake...seriously.

Ingredients

150g unsalted butter (cold, cut into blocks)
1 packet of digestive biscuits
115g caster sugar
3 tablespoons cornflour
500g of low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature (two tubs)
250g of full-fat cream cheese (I used Philadelphia, but if that’s a little extravagant then totally use something else)
2 large free-range or organic eggs
100ml of cream
1 cup of sparkling water
2 vanilla pods (cut in half lengthways and the seeds scraped out (or of course 2 caps-full of vanilla essence))
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange

What to do:

Empty the packet of digestive biscuits into a largish bowl, add the butter and then crush the two together until they’ve combined to form a roughish paste.

Rub an oven-proof dish or baking tray with a little butter so that the bottom and sides are greased up nicely.

Press the biscuit/butter mix onto the bottom so that it makes an even crust and bake in an oven on about 180 °C until it’s browned, then remove and set aside.

Get another largish bowl (or just wash, dry and re-use the one you used for the biscuit base – don’t ever say I’m not looking out for your washing up) and combine the sugar and cornflower. Add the cream cheese and whisk it until it combined with the sugar and has started to take on a really smooth, almost velvety texture (if you do this by hand – prepare to seriously break a sweat). Then add the eggs, and continue to beat.

Now, this is the delicate bit: add about a third of the cream and continue to beat until it’s all in there. Then add about half the sparkling water and – you guessed it, continue to beat. Then another third of the cream, beat, the rest of the water, beat, the last of the cream. Beat.

Finally add the vanilla seeds and zest, give it a final beat and then empty the mix onto the biscuit base.

Bake in an oven pre-heated to 200 °C for about 45 minutes. Check to see if the sides of the cheesecake have set (they should be slightly pulling away from the sides of your baking dish) and then let it cool for about 3 hours or so.

I’m impatient, so I put it in the fridge for about an hour or so.

The old stuff still works…

The Oven had fought off all-comers for his spot in the sun.
The Oven had fought off all-comers for his spot in the sun.

I am the proud owner of this ridiculous piece of 70s kitchen equipment called The Little Lovin’ Fan Oven. Because apparently no other colours existed in the 70s, its colour-scheme is various shades of brown and other brown, it’s built to survive nuclear fallout and consists of about one moving part. It was given to my parents as a wedding present and, when they got divorced was handed down to me (well, more accurately… I stole it. I was a student and we’ll take anything that isn’t actually made of poo or welded to the ceiling, as any bar-owner in Grahamstown will tell you). The most amazing quality of this hunchbacked cooking throwback, is that even though it’s been glued back together more times than a Morningside housewife’s sex-toy, it still works (much the like the Morningside housewife’s sex-toy – again, only one moving part…). Not only does it still work, it kicks the ass of just about every piece of cooking equipment I’ve ever owned and possibly will own in the future. This rather belabored point is meant to go some way to show that, apart from having some seriously questionable ideas about personal grooming, those guys from 40 years ago had fairly good ideas about what works when it comes to kitchen machinery. Apparently their ideas of what to do with that kitchen machinery haven’t lasted with similar grace and hardiness.

I guess one likes to think of food as some sort of constant. An unchanging thread that currently links us as humans across the world, but backwards and forwards across time as well. The thing is that food is as subject to trends as anything else – perhaps even more so. Remember the Great Sundried Tomato Craze of the mid-90s? Our current obsession with pomegranates? “Fusion” Food? And now, Organic everything? It was watching those two teletubbies from Masterchef rather scornfully ridicule some poor well-intentioned contestant who wanted to stuff an aubergine, proclaiming that “we” stopped doing that in the 70s. This annoyed the hell out of me, because I suddenly realized that the fickle ridiculousness of “fashionable” food is threatening to leach the fun and universality out of what should be a purely pleasurable past-time without any exception (so how about you take that snot-faced attitude and go lick the ceiling of a bar in Grahamstown, Masterchef Morons, because I know for a fact that, with cavalier disregard for what “we” do, I stuffed the crap out of a tomato the other night and it was bloody delicious,). What we see as completely natural and almost universal food combinations can almost completely disappear in the space of a decade, and even the more ‘universal’ combinations are for the most part, incredibly recent ideas. Medieval cooks had very few of the spices, herbs and condiments that we take for granted today. Food was often not salted, it was packed full of honey and more often than not drowned in pastry and cloves to disguise the fact that the meat was more often than not on the wrong side of ripe. No potatoes, no rice, no tomatoes. Lots of bread, lots of cheese, lots of mushrooms, lots of pigeons, squirrels, lots of grouse, pheasants, partridge, chickens, ducks and geese.

Actually, that sounds very similar to a meal I had in Krugersdorp once.

Was *everything* is the 70s about sex?
Was *everything* is the 70s about sex?

How we approach and think about ingredients changes all the time, depending on fashions, world social trends and the inventiveness of a few famous restaurateurs and TV chefs. The thing I struggle with is trying to decide if I want to listen to that rather small group of “foodie elites”. On the one hand it’s nice to be exposed to fresh ideas and new directions, but on the other hand, dammit – if I want to have a fondue, then I’m fucking going to have one, and Gordon Ramsey can go jump up his own bum. Possibly the only way to do it would be to start a restaurant that specializes in dishes that have gone out of fashion. The centrepiece of the menu? Chicken Kiev. Starters of Prawn Ritz and little cubes of gelatin with ham in them will definitely be on the cards. Fondue? Certainly. Medieval grouse pie? Sure thing. Steak Flambe! Salads packed full of sundried tomatoes, Rice pudding, Black Forest Gateau, and entire trays of things that can be stuffed with other things.

It’s time to be deliberately untrendy, to cook and eat what we like and not to worry that the food police are looking over our shoulder all the time.